A campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical use in Oregon is facing pushback from activists over an amended ballot measure’s omission of earlier provisions that would have reduced criminal penalties associated with the psychedelic fungus.
The Oregon Psilocybin Society (OPS) originally filed a proposed initiative that called for reducing penalties for possession, cultivation and delivery of psilocybin for adults in addition to establishing a therapeutic model for the substance’s legal use in a medically supervised environment. But after hearing from political advisors and funders, the group said it decided to scrap the non-medical reform aspect.
Part of the rationale was that OPS heard that the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is planning to introduce more sweeping drug decriminalization measures in several states including Oregon.
“We support their powerful vision of addressing drug use through a health approach instead of treating it as a criminal problem,” OPS said in an email blast describing the rationale for the revisions. “So, we made up our minds. Rather than duplicate the same effort as DPA, we would produce a new and improved bill to legalize psilocybin assisted therapy and drop the decriminalization aspect.”
But that decision has nonetheless drawn criticism from other psychedelics activists.
Shortly after the state attorney general proposed a draft ballot title for the newly revised measure, which is required after organizers collect a certain number of signatures, Decriminalize Nature Portland (DNP) and a political action committee called the Mushroom PAC released a statement condemning OPS’s changes.
The groups said in an email newsletter and in comments submitted to the attorney general that OPS “abandoned their original intentions to pass statewide decriminalization in addition to a statewide therapy model” and added a section that “explicitly criminalizes non-therapeutic use” of psilocybin,” which they characterized as a “flip-flop in direction.”
“In changing course, they have not only betrayed the people who gave money to their group based on a lie of decriminalization, but they have abandoned the thousands of Oregonians who will not be able to afford access to therapeutic-only psychedelic medicine,” DNP and the Mushroom PAC wrote.
The groups alleged that OPS founders “sold out their ideals in order to get ahead” by revising their initiative to create an automatic, two-year placement on a compensated advisory board and also criminalizing outdoor personal cultivation. They questioned whether the latter provision was added because, they wrote, one of OPS’s $1,000+ donors “owns patents on indoor growing equipment.”
“There are three key reasons why these changes deserve to be critiqued: the bill is now worse for people of color, it is worse for the poor, and it is worse for civil liberty and personal freedom,” the groups alleged.
Because OPS dropped the criminal penalty reform provisions and specified there would be consequences for unsanctioned cultivation and use, DNP and Mushroom PAC argued that people of color would be disproportionately targeted for enforcement, as occurs for a multitude of crimes.
“And finally, the bill is now worse for every single Oregonian from the standpoint of civil liberties and cognitive liberty. It is no longer a combined decriminalization/therapy effort that would have created the freedom for each free-thinking person to decide how to pursue this natural medicine in relation to their health—it is now a therapy-only effort that restricts decisions about freedom to the medical system, the Oregon Health Authority, and board representatives.”
Two medical professionals expressed similar reservations via a public comment period after the attorney general proposed the draft ballot title.
“I no longer support the current initiative in its form as it has veered a significant distance from its original orientation,” psychologist Jeff Tarrant wrote. “The vast majority of people supporting the initiative, supported it in its original version.”
“Many of those people are not even aware that it has been altered significantly. I am not alone in my disappointment of the direction this has taken,” he said. “Again, it is my firm belief that many/most of the people originally supporting this initiative did so with the understanding that this would be supporting decriminalization.”
OPS released a campaign update to supporters the day after DNP and Mushroom PAC published their criticism. The group’s statement sought to “clarify where we are, and how we got here” and offered an explanation about the thinking behind removing decriminalization from the measure.
“We wanted to put psychedelic therapy on solid ground—surrounded by safety, best practices, and ethical standards, yet decidedly outside of the pharma-driven medical system,” OPS founders Tom and Sheri Eckert wrote. “And we wanted to reduce penalties for possession of usable amounts of psilocybin.”
But as the campaign evolved, they were approved by the firm Emerge Law Group as well as executives from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps who raised concerns about the initiative language and pledged to providing funding to OPS if certain changes were made.
“Their points were valid and important, perhaps vital for long term success. But the thought of revising the language was hard to digest. It would mean starting the process over, including ballot titling and signature gathering. We were resistant.”
“With the clock ticking, and a potential rewrite in the works, we conveyed that we’d need some assurances of financial support to help knock out the required 112,200 valid petition signatures on time. David provided those assurances,” OPS wrote, referring to the Dr. Bronner’s CEO and activist David Bronner.
OPS said it also consulted with Psychedelic Science Funders Collaborative Executive Director Graham Boyd, who has worked on political strategy and helped steer funding from the late Progressive insurance chairman Peter Lewis to marijuana reform efforts as well as previously serving as director of the ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project.
Between feedback from those advisors and hearing that DPA would be working to get broader decriminalization approved in Oregon, the revised measure emerged. OPS emphasized that tweaks were made to ensure that “the new language makes it impossible for pharma and big corporations to overrun this emerging space.”
“We think that’s worth repeating over and over, because disinformation is so rampant right now, often perpetuated by otherwise psychedelic friendly folks,” the group wrote. “We get it—social media banter is confusing, often divorced from reality… and, perhaps not surprisingly, there is a dedicated disinformation campaign being waged against us.”
“But let’s be very clear about this. The way we talk about this initiative has real implications for the future of mental healthcare. This is not a game. The current system is broken, and real lives are at stake. If you carelessly perpetuate disinformation about the Oregon campaign, you are, wittingly or not, doing the work of those who would deny psilocybin assisted therapy to those who are suffering and are desperately in need of help.”
The group listed other changes that were made following consultation with advisors.
[O]ver the course of a couple months, we drafted the most complete and dialed-in revision imaginable to legalize psilocybin therapy – a unique, world-class document. Much of the content reflects the earlier version, only cleaner, including:
—A framework for accessing psilocybin services
—Safety, practice, and ethical standards
—Services open to anyone who is not medically contraindicated
—An affordable, community-based framework outside the medical / pharma system
—Trained and competent facilitators (without requiring previous credentialing)
—Use of organic materials (mushrooms), not just synthetic psilocybin
Other inclusions were either new or augmented the previous provisions, while addressing a variety of concerns from the community. Some new highlights include:
—A strengthened Advisory Board, with directives to work with state and federal officials to create an environment of cooperation
—An extended development period so that the OHA can successfully roll out the program
—Prohibition of cannabis-style branding and marketing of psilocybin products
—Iron-clad protections against big corporate influences, including limiting business entities to a single production facility of limited size, or maximum five service centers (no big chains)
These revisions make the measure “vastly stronger,” OPS argued, because it “better protects the original spirit of the initiative.”
Paul Stamets, a mycologist well-known in the psychedelics community for his advocacy for the use of fungi in medicine, called the new initiative a “massive improvement,” OPS said.
“The truth is, this campaign is philosophically sound and very much on track, with firepower behind it… and for good reason,” they wrote, adding that OPS plans to hire management and other “key positions” as it seeks out a consulting firm to aid in signature gathering.
OPS also sought changes to the attorney general’s draft ballot language, urging the official to revise the title so that there are tight restrictions and to ensure that psilocybin would only be able to be consumed in a licensed facility.
While the debate over the revised language could pose problems for the Oregon campaign as it seeks to qualify and then pass their measure, it also reflects the growing enthusiasm and organization of the psilocybin decriminalization movement, which has scored historic victories in Denver and Oakland so far this year and has plans to push a statewide decriminalization measure in California in 2020.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.
Bipartisan Lawmakers Circulate Letter Urging FDA To Back Off CBD Companies
A bipartisan pair of lawmakers are circulating a sign-on letter asking colleagues to join them in urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to back off companies that are selling CBD products in a responsible manner.
The “Dear Colleague” letter, which is being led by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and James Comer (R-KY), emphasizes that hemp and CBD were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill and argues that the lack of regulations for such products is creating industry uncertainty that’s inhibiting economic opportunities.
The letter was first reported by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which is asking its supporters to encourage their representatives to sign on.
FDA has said it is in the process of developing rules for the non-intoxicating compound, including a potential alternative regulatory pathway allowing for CBD to be added to the food supply and as dietary supplements. That could take years, however, as former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has noted.
In the meantime, the agency is being selective about enforcement action against companies that make unsanctioned claims about their products while also maintaining that all businesses selling CBD food items are violating the law.
The lawmakers aren’t satisfied. They described FDA’s regulatory timeframe as “untenable,” particularly because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release its rules for hemp “any day now,” and an official revealed this month that its draft regulations are currently undergoing final White House and Department of Justice review.
The members of Congress added that FDA’s current approach to CBD has “created significant regulatory and legal uncertainty for participants in this quickly evolving industry.”
“Given the widespread availability of CBD products, growing consumer demand, and the expected surge in the hemp farming in the near future, it’s critical that FDA act quickly to provide legal and regulatory clarity to support this new economic opportunity,” they wrote.
“Please join us in signing this bipartisan letter to Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless urging the agency to adopt a risk-based policy of enforcement discretion that targets bad actors while eliminating uncertainty for responsible industry stakeholders and consumers. Additionally, we are requesting that FDA to issue an interim final rule to regulate CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”
In the letter to Sharpless that Pingree and Comer are asking fellow lawmakers to sign, they laid out two requests for FDA.
First, the agency should “promptly issue guidance announcing a policy of enforcement discretion that maintains FDA’s current risk-based enforcement approach towards hemp-derived CBD products.” And second, it should “consider issuing an interim final rule, pending issuance of a permanent final rule, to establish a clear regulatory framework for CBD as a dietary supplement and food additive.”
The lawmakers added that they appreciate that FDA has pursued “enforcement actions against the worst offenders,” but that “it can do so while eliminating regulatory uncertainty for farmers, retailers, and consumers.”
“Without a formal enforcement discretion policy, anyone participating in the growing marketplace for legal hemp-derived products will continue to face significant legal and regulatory uncertainty,” they wrote.
Though issuing guidance on a “policy of enforcement discretion” wouldn’t be a codified law allowing companies to market CBD in the food supply, it would demonstrate to the industry that some protections are in place while FDA continues to navigate the rulemaking process.
Lawmakers have until Tuesday to sign the letter to FDA.
Read the Dear Colleague invitation and CBD letter to FDA below:
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Marijuana Banking Bill Will Get A Full House Floor Vote This Month
A bipartisan bill to protect banks that service marijuana businesses will get a House floor vote by the end of the month, the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed to Marijuana Moment on Friday.
House leadership announced the decision to Democratic lawmakers at a closed-door meeting on Thursday.
“Mr. Hoyer said at the Whip meeting yesterday that he intends to move it this month,” a Hoyer staffer said in an email. “We’re discussing it with Members, but it hasn’t been scheduled just yet.”
Prior to confirmation from Hoyer’s office, four sources initially described the development to Marijuana Moment, with some saying the vote would be made under suspension of the rules—a procedure that is generally reserved for non-controversial legislation.
Voting on suspension would require two-thirds of the chamber (290 members) to vote in favor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in order for it to pass. The bill, which cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March, currently has 206 cosponsors, including 26 Republicans.
No amendments would be allowed to be added on the floor under the suspension process.
Problems could arise if lawmakers aren’t able to rally additional votes from conservative members or if there’s pushback over the strategy from progressive lawmakers, though it is unlikely Democratic leadership would advance the bill if they didn’t believe they have the votes for passage.
While interest in resolving the banking issue is generally bipartisan, it’s within reason to assume that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle might have wanted the opportunity to offer provisions such as extending protections to hemp businesses or adding language promoting social equity policies. That said, it is possible that leadership could file an entirely new piece of legislation that is similar to the SAFE Banking Act but contains modified provisions negotiated with key members and use that as the vehicle for floor action.
Many expected cannabis banking legislation to receive a floor vote before the August recess, but that did not come to fruition.
In any case, the development comes as the Senate Banking Committee is also preparing to hold a vote on marijuana banking legislation, with Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) announcing on Thursday that his panel is “working to try to get a bill ready.” He didn’t offer a timeline, however, other than saying he hoped to advance the legislation by the end of the year.
While sources told Marijuana Moment that Hoyer made his decision to allow cannabis banking vote following an earlier Wednesday meeting on the issue, it is likely that building momentum in the GOP-controlled Senate added to pressure on the House to act so that Democrats wouldn’t be seen as lagging behind Republicans on cannabis reform, an issue the party has sought to take political ownership of.
Following Crapo’s statement on advancing the banking legislation, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, told Marijuana Moment that he welcomes the senator’s “commitment to resolve the banking conflicts that have been created by the misalignment in state and federal law on the issue of cannabis.”
“I remain focused on passing the SAFE Banking Act out of the House and look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate as they take up the SAFE Banking Act or work to develop and pass similar legislation,” he said.
Banking access is largely seen as one of the most achievable pieces of cannabis legislation that stands to pass this Congress. Advocates and reform-minded lawmakers view it as one of the first steps on the path toward ending federal marijuana prohibition.
“We are seeing the blueprint in action and moving forward on critical legislation to protect state legal cannabis banking,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment, referring to a memo he sent to House leadership last year outlining a committee-by-committee process for passing incremental cannabis bills leading up to major legislation to end federal prohibition. “Earlier this summer, the House passed protections for state and tribal cannabis laws. In the most cannabis friendly Congress in history, we need to keep up this momentum. There is still much to be done.”
There has been some disagreement within advocacy circles about whether it’s prudent to pass legislation viewed as primarily favorable to the industry before advancing comprehensive legislation that deschedules cannabis and takes steps to repair the harms of prohibition enforcement.
“It is our hope that after the successful passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the House, we will be able to advance legislation that ends the federal criminalization of cannabis once and for all,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Now is our time to demonstrate that marijuana law reform is both good policy and good politics.”
“We will not stop until otherwise law-abiding Americans are no longer discriminated against or criminalized due to the past or future choice to consume cannabis,” he said.
Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “delighted that the U.S. House of Representatives is on the brink of passing a landmark piece of cannabis policy legislation that modernizes our antiquated banking laws to reflect the will of the people.”
“This is welcomed and long overdue news for the over 200,000 employees that work in the industry, cannabis businesses, and for public safety in the communities in which we operate,” he said. “Once the SAFE Banking Act passes the U.S. House, we call on the U.S. Senate to move quickly to protect our businesses and our workers.”
Pressure has been building all year from stakeholders and policymakers alike to get the legislation passed. Endorsements aren’t just coming from reform groups, either; 50 state banking associations, the National Association of State Treasurers, the top financial regulators of 25 states, a majority of state attorneys general and bipartisan governors of 20 states have also voiced support for the SAFE Banking Act.
Earlier this month, the head of the American Bankers Association predicted that the bill would be passed in the House “as early as September.”
This story was updated to add comment from Perlmutter and Hoyer’s office.
New ‘Marijuana 1-to-3 Act’ Would Reclassify Cannabis Under Federal Law
Another bill to reschedule marijuana was filed in Congress on Thursday.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) introduced the legislation, which is titled the “Marijuana 1-to-3 Act.” True to its name, the bill would simply require the attorney general to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act, with the aim of increasing research on the drug’s effects.
“As marijuana is legalized for medical and recreational use across the United States, it is important that we study the effects of the substance and the potential impacts it can have on various populations,” Steube said in a press release. “By rescheduling marijuana from a schedule I controlled substance to a schedule III controlled substance, the opportunities for research and study are drastically expanded.
Today, I introduced a bill to reschedule marijuana from a schedule I to a schedule III controlled substance. The Marijuana 1-to-3 Act will allow additional research to be done on the benefits of marijuana by removing bureaucratic red tape. https://t.co/w45WAKHBr9
— Congressman Greg Steube (@RepGregSteube) September 12, 2019
“With this rescheduling, researchers can now access federal funds to research this substance and determine its medical value,” he said.
The press release came hours after a bipartisan pair of lawmakers introduced separate legislation to reschedule marijuana, also to Schedule III.
That bill contained additional provisions that would require federal agencies to develop research agendas for marijuana within one year of its enactment and also establish a system whereby universities could be designated as “Centers of Excellence in Cannabis Research” if they conducted comprehensive studies on issues related to marijuana.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is a sponsor of the broader research bill, is also cosponsoring Steube’s more focused rescheduling proposal.
It’s not clear why Steube chose to file his own reclassification bill or whether the other legislation’s additional provisions were a factor.
The congressman’s two-page bill states that “the Attorney General of the United States shall, by order not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this section, transfer marijuana…from schedule I of such Act to schedule III of such Act.”
“We hear every day about the positive health benefits of marijuana,” Steube said. “Whether it’s young children with seizure disorders, or veterans suffering from chronic pain, it is clear that there are medical benefits to marijuana and I think it’s time we remove the bureaucratic red tape that prevents us from thoroughly studying this substance.”
While he emphasized that the intent of his legislation is to encourage research into marijuana, placing cannabis in Schedule III would also have implications for marijuana businesses, who are currently ineligible for federal tax deductions under an Internal Revenue Code section that applies to anyone “trafficking in controlled substances” in Schedule I or II.
Read the full text of the bill below:
Photo by Ndispensable.